Eritrea has long been a hidden gem for travellers looking for a rich natural heritage and spectacular nature experiences. The country’s magnificent archaeological and geographical features would be the envy of any country trying to attract visitors. Pristine beaches and natural wildlife areas combined with archaeological, historical and religious sites makes it ideal for adventurous visitors seeking experiences off the beaten track. Although the country has started to be noticed – partly as a result of government marketing efforts – there is still a long way to go before the ecological and cultural sites of the country will attract any large crowds of visitors.
The Eritrean government’s ambitious development plan for the country´s tourism market from the year 2000 to the year 2020 has yet to reap any significant rewards. The Eritrean travel and tourism market has been described as a table that needs to be lifted simultaneously from all sides to be able to prosper; i.e. all the areas of the industry, including infrastructure, political stability and government efforts need to all be in place for any real change to occur.
The national carrier Eritrean Airlines has long been the dominant link connecting Eritrea with the outside world, and continued to be so in 2013. Difficult financial times as well as border conflicts caused the national flag carrier to suspend scheduled services in 2008 but it re-started its operations in mid-2011 under new management. The airline is based at Asmara International Airport and is fully owned by the Eritrean government. As of December 2013, it had an active fleet of three aircraft and offered direct flights to six countries. The US did, however, ban leasing of aircrafts to the company as a step in the imposing of sanctions on Eritrea. Despite this, Eritrean Airlines plans to purchase wider body aircraft, such as the Airbus A330 and Boeing 737, to replace its current fleet. Also planned are future services to a number of Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia.
In 2013 unruliness continued in much of Eritrea. Eritrea has struggled with violence and civil strife for over 30 years including violent conflicts with neighbouring states such as Yemen and Ethiopia. In recent years, the nation has been enjoying relative peace and stability, which has helped to add momentum to the development of travel and tourism in the country. In 2013 however, the Islamic rebel force Al-Shabab has started to threaten this, and the south of the country where the group mainly operates from has been deemed unsafe for travel.
The Eritrean economy is heavily dependent on remittances from the diaspora but is reported to be on the brink of a mining boom thanks to the recent discovery of oil, which is considered to be one of the major drivers of future economic growth. The exploitation of oil, natural gas and other minerals offers an opportunity for Eritrea to attract foreign direct investment. This will provide a potential source for the expansion of export receipts and may further boost the nation’s agricultural-based economy.
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